Irving “Itchy” Sonenshine (Zonenschein), son of Polish immigrants, talks about growing up in the St. Philip Street neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, and recalls many of the Jewish families that operated stores on King Street. He discusses the two Orthodox synagogues, Beth Israel and Brith Sholom, his experiences in Hebrew school and at AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) functions, his service as a navigator on bombers in the Pacific theatre during World War II, his partnership with Arthur Kahn in the electronics business, and his wife, Mildred “Mickey” Breibart Sonenshine, also a native of Charleston. Sonenshine also mentions the synagogue his son Stanley attends, B’nai Torah, a “Conservadox” congregation in Atlanta. Note: a videotape of this interview is available for viewing in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Irving “Itchy” Sonenshine (Zonenschein), in this follow-up to his September 30, 1997 interview, describes growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1920s and ’30s, including stories about childhood playmates, his participation in AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph), and local Jewish merchants, including those who closed their businesses on the Sabbath. He recalls the religious leaders and the merger of the two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, and the split that occurred when Emanu-El, the Conservative congregation, was established. Among the topics discussed: Friendship Lodge; the Kalushiner Society; Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform practices; and the status of Charleston’s Orthodox community at the time of the interview.
Frances Solomon Garfinkle, daughter of Morris and Rina Chachevski Solomon, relates her mother’s stories of life in Zabludow, Poland, before she immigrated to the United States. Frances, a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, recalls visiting relatives in Charleston, South Carolina, as a child. She married Nathan Garfinkle, son of Sam and Annie Garfinkel, emigrants from, respectively, Divin and Grozny, Russia. Nathan, who remembers living in Charleston’s East Side before moving to the St. Philip Street neighborhood, attended Beth Israel, one of two Orthodox synagogues, with his father. Frances and Nathan discuss Charleston’s Jewish merchants, particularly wholesaler Sam Solomon, whose Sullivan’s Island summer home was a gathering place for Jewish families on Sundays. They describe Charleston and Jewish food traditions, including African-American street vendors and Jewish-owned markets, and the prevalence of Yiddish speakers among members of the Jewish community in the first half of the twentieth century. Even some African Americans who worked for Jewish store owners spoke Yiddish. Louisa Simmons kept house for Sam and Annie Garfinkel, and later for Nathan and Frances, for a total of than more than fifty years. “She was one of the family . . . we loved her.” Note: Other family members spell the name Garfinkel. The interviewee has spelled his name Garfinkle since his military service during World War II, when a typographic error was made and never corrected.
Bernice Berlin Silver, one of four children of Sam and Bertha Livingstain Berlin (Berlinsky), talks about growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, several blocks from the Jewish immigrant neighborhood north of Calhoun Street. Bernice grew up in an Orthodox home, but her father opened the family store on the Sabbath out of “necessity.” She attended Crafts School and Memminger High School, where she was valedictorian of her graduating class. While most of her friends were gentiles, she participated in AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph) activities and was an AZA Sweetheart. Bernice married Sam Silver (Zilberman) of Augusta, Georgia. The couple moved to his hometown where she became active in Hadassah and started a chapter of the NCJW (National Council of Jewish Women). After about 25 years, the Silvers relocated first to Columbia, South Carolina, and then California, before settling in Charleston, where they operated a restaurant supply business for over two decades. Bernice discusses her immediate and extended family members. Interviewer Ruth Jacobs reads from material obtained from Charleston city directories regarding business and home addresses of the Livingstains (Bernice’s mother’s family) and the Goodmans (Bernice’s maternal grandmother’s family) in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Alex Garfinkel discusses his father, Harry Louis Garfinkel, who emigrated from Divin, Russia, around the turn of the twentieth century to avoid conscription. He was followed to the United States by two sisters, four brothers, and his father. Harry heard there were landsmen (countrymen) from Divin in Charleston, South Carolina, so he moved there and worked as a shoemaker until he bought a mattress factory. He married Celia Hannah Lapidus of Charleston. At some point, Harry turned over the mattress business to his brother Sam and opened a junk yard, which grew into a successful scrap metal business. Alex grew up on Line Street, one of eight children. He attended Hebrew school at Beth Israel and briefly mentions the split between Beth Israel and Brith Sholom, the Orthodox synagogues. Alex talks about King Street merchants, his father’s businesses, and taking over the scrap yard as a young man, which exempted him from military service during World War II. He invited his cousin Max Garfinkel of Baltimore to join him in the growing business, and they remained partners for over forty years. See also interviews with other members of the Garfinkel family: Helen Rosenshein, Olga Weinstein, Sandra Shapiro, Nathan and Frances Garfinkle (Nathan spells the family name differently), Max and Jennie Garfinkel, and Philip Garfinkel.
Jennie Kaufman Garfinkel’s parents, Benjamin and Dora Kirshstein Kaufman, emigrated from Kaluszyn, Poland, around 1912. They settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where they owned, first, a dress shop, and then a grocery store. To help support the household, Jennie left high school before graduating and took a job. She met her husband, Max Garfinkel, when he came to Charleston to work for his uncle H. L. Garfinkel in his scrap yard. Max grew up in Baltimore, the son of immigrants Molly Blacher and Hyman Garfinkel of Divin, Russia. He and his cousin Alex Garfinkel partnered in the scrap metal business in Charleston for over forty years. Max and Jennie talk about their children and grandchildren, and consider how their experiences as Jews differed from previous generations. Interviewer Leah Barkowitz, the Garfinkels’ niece, who grew up in Charleston in the 1930s and ’40s, mentions the Villa Margherita, a Charleston inn that excluded Jews until about 1950. She discusses the “five o’clock shadow,” which meant that Jews and gentiles socialized with one another before, but not after, five o’clock. See also interviews with other members of the Garfinkel family: Helen Rosenshein, Olga Weinstein, Nathan and Frances Garfinkle (Nathan spells the family name differently), Philip Garfinkel, Sandra Shapiro, and Alex Garfinkel.
Ralph Geldbart tells the story of his father, Israel Geldbart, who immigrated to New York from Mogielnica, Poland, early in the 20th century. He used his mother’s maiden name, Goldberg, on the advice of relatives living in New York, who believed it would be an easier name for Americans to understand. (The family later reverted to Geldbart.) Israel, who began working as a tailor in New York, volunteered to serve in the United States Army during World War I and was sent to France, where he was wounded. After the war he brought his wife, Rebecca Cygielman, and their daughter, Sylvia, to the United States. They settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where Israel opened an army surplus store on King Street. The family, which grew to include Helen, Ralph, and Jack, belonged to Brith Sholom, one of the city’s two Orthodox synagogues. Ralph describes relations among members of Orthodox Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, and the Reform temple, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. He discusses his family’s Shabbes traditions, local Jewish merchants, and the Kalushiner Society, an organization founded by landsmen from Kaluszyn, Poland. Ralph was a sophomore at The Citadel when he joined the army to fight in World War II. He recalls landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day in the second wave. About a month later, while his unit was pushing into Normandy, Ralph was wounded, and he describes his experiences during transport and hospitalization in Europe and the United States. Ralph completed college at the University of Chicago and earned his optometry degree at Northern Illinois. After returning to Charleston, he opened an optometry office on George Street near the College of Charleston. He was the first contact lens fitter in the Southeast. He married Madolyn Cohen of Lincolnton, North Carolina, and they raised two daughters, Laurie and Jill, in Charleston. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by the interviewee during proofing. For related material, see the Goldberg family papers, Mss. 1051 and Family tree, descendants of Oise Sokol, Mss. 1034-035 in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Rachel Raisin and Mordenai Hirsch, daughters of Jane Lazarus (1887–1965) and Rabbi Jacob Salmon Raisin (1878–1946), describe their experiences growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, in the years between the First and Second World Wars. Jacob Raisin emigrated with his family from Russia to New York City when he was twelve years old. The son of Orthodox Jews, he attended Hebrew Union College and served a number of congregations in the United States before he was hired in 1915 by Charleston’s Reform synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). Jane Lazarus, who could trace her Sephardic ancestry in America to the 1700s, was a member and Sunday school teacher at KKBE. The couple married in 1917 and raised Mordenai, Rachel, and their brother, Aaron, in a home that was one of seven rental properties on Wragg Square known as Aiken’s Row. The sisters describe the house and property where they grew up, and where members of Jane’s family had lived for generations. Jane’s father, Marks Hubert Lazarus, ran a hardware and cutlery store, the M. H. Lazarus Company, on King Street. Topics addressed in the interview include merchants, private kindergartens, and Jane Lazarus’s involvement in organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and Hadassah (she founded the local chapter). The sisters also discuss issues of assimilation and identity, particularly as they relate to the early members of KKBE. Rachel attended Radcliffe College where she majored in government, and earned her degree in library science from Emory University. She worked in several cities in the East and Midwest. Mordenai studied early childhood education at the College of Charleston and Smith College. She received her master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. She married sculptor Willard Hirsch, who co-founded Charleston Art School with fellow artists and teachers Corrie McCallum and William Halsey. Mordenai provides some background on her husband and his family and gives examples of his commissioned works. See Lazarus and Hirsch family papers (Mss 1018), Rabbi Jacob S. Raisin papers (Mss 1075), and Willard N. Hirsch papers (Mss 1074), for related materials in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Bertha Lazarus Breibart, daughter of immigrants Louis and Rose Lazarus (Lazarowitz), discusses growing up in Charleston and Summerville, South Carolina, in the 1920s and ’30s. Louis arrived in New York in 1902, worked as a tailor, and, later, his wife and their first child, Max, joined him. The family moved to Charleston, where Louis ran a shoe repair shop in various locations on King Street. When they moved to Summerville, he reopened on Main Street. Bertha remembers that her father struggled to make a living; they were a “very poor family,” one that included three brothers, Max, Morris, and Herman, all much older than Bertha. The family traveled to Charleston to attend holiday services at Brith Sholom, one of Charleston’s two Orthodox synagogues. Bertha recalls the traditional foods her mother made, their Jewish neighbors in Charleston and Summerville, and her experiences attending Summerville public schools. When she was eighteen she represented Summerville in Charleston’s 1935 Azalea Festival beauty contest and won. Bertha attended AZA and B’nai Brith dances and other social events in Charleston, and on one of her many visits to the city, she met her husband, George Breibart. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by the interviewee during proofing.
Marion Hornik discusses his family history and growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. His father, Morris, born in 1863, left his hometown of Jaroslaw, Austria-Hungary, now Poland, when he was fourteen years old. He worked in London, England, and New York City before moving to Bonneau, South Carolina, where, at eighteen, he took a job in Mr. Nagel’s country store. Eventually he moved to Charleston, married his first wife, Julia Dessauer, and, in 1886, opened a clothing store on King Street. In 1893 Morris switched to selling wholesale goods from his new business on Meeting Street, Hornik’s Bargain House (later he changed the name to M. Hornik & Company). Julia died five years later, leaving Morris with three children. He remarried after a few years, this time to Rebecca Klein of Walterboro, South Carolina. Tragedy struck again in 1915 when Rebecca died. Morris brought his sister Rosa to the United States to help him with John and Marion, his two young sons by Rebecca. The Horniks were members of the Reform temple Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). Marion attended Porter Military Academy and graduated from the College of Charleston in 1929. He worked on oil tankers during summer breaks and, after college, he worked for an Atlanta company as a traveling salesman. In 1934 his father requested he return to Charleston to help with the family’s wholesale business. When Morris died three years later, Marion and John became partners in the business. Marion recalls his mother’s father and brother who ran Klein’s Drugstore in Walterboro, and discusses the tendency, in recent years, toward more traditional services at KKBE. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by Marion’s wife, Ruth, during proofing. For related material, see HF5429 .H67 1907 and Mss. 1034-097 in Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Ethel Lapin Draisin, born in 1908 in Charleston, South Carolina, is joined by her husband, Louis Draisin in recounting her family history. Ethel’s maternal grandparents, Nathan and Ethel Goldstein, emigrated from Poland and arrived in Charleston in the 1870s. Nathan ran a wholesale dry goods business on Meeting Street. Their daughter Dora (Ethel Draisin’s mother) married Israel Lapin, a Lithuanian immigrant who ran a clothing store on King Street from 1909 until 1953. Ethel Lapin met Louis Draisin, who emigrated from Bobruisk, Russia, as a young child, while she was visiting relatives in New York. In 1940, shortly after marrying, the couple settled in Charleston, where they raised two children, Neil and Judy. Ethel, the oldest of six, recalls Jewish merchants, neighbors and friends of the Lapin family, and the food her mother prepared. Louis describes his World War II tour of duty as a quartermaster in Patton’s Third Army. Both Draisins discuss Charleston’s “uptown” and “downtown” Jews, and the Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel.
Joseph Chase, Charleston, South Carolina, native and older son of Freda Lerner and Marty Chase, discusses his family history. Freda’s family immigrated to Charleston around 1920 from Biala, Poland. On a visit to her sister in Detroit, Freda met Marty Chase, who had emigrated from Vilna Gubernia, Poland, to New York City in 1912 with his mother. In 1930 Marty left his factory job in Detroit and moved to Charleston to marry Freda. The interviewee notes that his uncle Morris Sokol, a furniture salesman, helped Marty get his start peddling furniture. Eight years later Marty rented a building on King Street and opened a store. He purchased the building in the early 1940s and replaced it with a new one in 1946, still the location of Chase Furniture at the time of the interview. While Marty “was not an observant man”—he opened his store on the Sabbath—Freda adhered to the laws of kashrut and led the family in Sabbath and holiday rituals. Joseph and his brother, Philip, joined the business in the 1950s, a time when there were more than thirty furniture vendors on King Street, and offering credit was routine. Joseph reflects on the history of the business and how it changed over the years in regard to customer loyalty and demographics. He considers the future of the business, which, at the time of the interview, was in its third generation with Ben Chase, his nephew, at the helm.
Philip Chase grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, the younger son of Freda Lerner and Marty Chase. In this interview he describes how Freda, who emigrated with her family from Poland to Charleston in the early 1900s, met Marty, also a native of Poland, while working with her sister in Detroit. The couple married in Charleston and settled there. Marty peddled furniture initially and, by 1938, was selling furniture from a building on King Street, previously occupied by Carolina Furniture Company. Eight years later, he constructed a new building on the same site, still the location of Chase Furniture at the time of the interview. Philip recalls growing up in a small community where “everyone knew everybody else,” and most of the furniture dealers on King Street were “friendly” competitors who traded merchandise to help their fellow store owners make a sale. Philip and his brother, Joseph, joined the business in the 1950s and, later, Philip’s son Ben became a part of the enterprise. The interviewee discusses the history of the store, particularly its customer base and the effects of Hurricane Hugo.
Ben Chase, a Charleston, South Carolina, native, followed his father, Philip, and uncle, Joseph, into the King Street business his grandfather Marty Chase started in the 1930s. In this interview he discusses the challenges Chase Furniture faces, particularly “the shift of the population out of the city,” which he anticipates will require the store to move to the suburbs in the near future. Besides losing a large part of their client base, the diversity of the remaining customers has been difficult to accommodate. Limited downtown parking adds to the list of reasons for a change in location.
Claire Krawcheck Nussbaum, daughter of Polish immigrants Jack and Esther Bielsky Krawcheck, describes growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1930s and ’40s. Her parents were Orthodox Jews who observed the Sabbath and kept a kosher kitchen, with the help of Agnes Jenkins, who worked for the family for decades as housekeeper, cook, and third parent to Claire and her three siblings. The Krawchecks lived downtown on Colonial Street, many blocks from the uptown neighborhood, north of Calhoun Street, where the majority of immigrant Orthodox Jewish families lived at the time. Claire was close to a Catholic girl who lived on the same street, and she attended Ashley Hall, a private girls’ school. She had few Jewish friends, but became quite familiar with Catholic and Episcopalian traditions. Her father had men’s clothing stores both north and south of Calhoun Street—Jack’s on the corner of King and Vanderhorst Street, and Jack Krawcheck’s on King Street between George and Liberty Street. Claire discusses the buildings that housed the latter of the two stores, 311 King Street, which her father built, and 313 King Street, which he restored. Changes to the properties included gardens behind the buildings featuring iron work by Philip Simmons, and specially-designed, second-floor meeting rooms, used by local clubs, with paintings by William Halsey. Jack and Esther were members of Brith Sholom and they were active in a number of Charleston’s civic organizations, such as the Preservation Society and the Garden Club. Claire, who had difficulty relating to Judaism as a child—she couldn’t understand the Hebrew services and no one explained why they were following certain rules—convinced her parents to allow her to attend services and Sunday school at the Reform synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). It was there that she became connected to the spiritual and religious aspects of Judaism. In 1950 Claire married Maurice Nussbaum of Ehrhardt, South Carolina, and they raised four children in Charleston. She discusses her siblings, children, and grandchildren, and her views on religion, antisemitism, and the changes in KKBE’s congregation since she began attending as a teen.
Isadore Cohen (b. 1918) and Samuel Rosen (b. 1929), Charleston natives and sons of immigrants from Russia and Poland, share their early memories of the Orthodox synagogues, Beth Israel and Brith Sholom, and discuss the relationship between the two congregations before and after their merger in the mid-1950s. They describe their Hebrew education, including their teachers—a number of rabbis plus a Mrs. Allen, daughter of Rabbi Gillman. Topics relating to the first half of the twentieth century covered in the interview include Jewish merchants, the Kalushiner Society, founded by immigrants from Kaluszyn, Poland, popular venues for Jewish functions, and the Cohen and Rosen family businesses, both small grocery stores. Interviewer Professor Jeffrey Gurock from Yeshiva University also provides information he discovered while conducting research for his book Orthodoxy in Charleston: Brith Sholom Beth Israel and American Jewish History.
In this interview Gordan Stine recalls that his maternal grandmother, Annie Gorse Pinosky, a widow of Polish descent with three children, moved to Charleston, South Carolina, circa 1911, from Fall River, Massachusetts. Sam Banov, a Charleston cousin, had arranged for her to marry King Street merchant Joseph Baron, an emigrant from Poland and widower with two children. In 1922 Annie’s daughter Helen Pinosky married Abraham Stein (Steinhauser), who was born in New York, a son of Austrian immigrants. Stein made his living designing advertisements and setting up displays for stores, and moved the family from Charleston to New Jersey when Gordan was twelve and his sister, Lenora, was eleven. Helen saw the move, which broke up her home, as bad luck, and, relying on numerology, changed the spelling of the family name to Stine. After a move to New York, and back to New Jersey, the Stines returned to Charleston in 1939. Gordan graduated from the College of Charleston in 1944, the same year he enlisted in the marines. He joined the reserves after he was released from active duty in 1945, and earned his dental degree from Emory University in 1950. Called again to active duty the following year, he and his new wife, Barbara Berlinsky, also from Charleston, were stationed for two years in their home town, where they stayed after discharge and raised their two sons, Steven and Robert. Gordan experienced no antisemitism directed at him personally while growing up in Charleston, but he discusses discrimination against Jews in general, touching on John Buhler’s tenure as dean of the dental school at the Medical University of South Carolina. Note: the transcript includes comments made by the interviewee during proofing.
Max Kirshstein relates the experiences of his father, Nathan, and uncle, Abe, natives of Kaluszyn, Poland, who immigrated to the United States in 1920 to avoid conscription into the Polish army. They followed their three sisters to Charleston, South Carolina. Nathan’s wife, Sarah Ingberman, and their two sons, Yankel and Max, both born in Sarah’s hometown of Laskarzew, Poland, joined him in Charleston a year later. Max credits Sam Rittenberg with helping newly-arrived immigrants and notes that Etta Gaeser was one of several teachers who provided instruction in English. Nathan, who peddled to support the family, which had grown to include three more children, died in 1930, when Max was only ten years old. After graduating from Murray Vocational School in 1936, Max took a job in Isadore and Dave Solomon’s pawn shop on King Street. Four years later, Ben Barkin offered him a position as an administrative assistant in Aleph Zadik Aleph’s (AZA) Washington office. Two and a half years at the national headquarters “changed the whole course of my life, my thinking, and everything else.” While serving in the navy during World War II, Max continued his association with AZA as an advisor for Virginia’s Tidewater chapters. After the war he returned to Charleston and, in addition to his advising duties, he became the first chairman of AZA’s southern region, and, later, helped to organize a new local chapter to accommodate the growing number of Baby Boomer teens. In 1946 Max opened Metropolitan Credit Company, which he renamed Metropolitan Furniture Company. A year later he married Sylvia Lazarus and together they raised three children. Max touches on the antisemitism he experienced growing up, the breakaway of a number of Brith Sholom members to form Emanu-El, Charleston’s Conservative synagogue, and the merger of the two Orthodox congregations, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel. Note: comments on the transcript made by Larry Iskow, the interviewee’s son-in-law, are in brackets with his initials.
Klyde Robinson continues his account of growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, begun in his first interview on August 26, 1997. His father’s business was a bicycle and toy store on the corner of King and Ann Streets, and everyone in the family worked there. Even as a U.S. district attorney and circuit court judge, Klyde helped out at Christmastime when sales peaked for the year. The Robinsons lived in the Hampton Park and upper King Street neighborhoods, and summered on Folly Beach and, later, on Sullivan’s Island where, Klyde recalls, a number of Jewish families had houses beginning in the 1930s. Emma Brown, the African-American woman who worked for the family for nearly 50 years, was well-versed in keeping kosher. Klyde attended The Citadel and at the end of his junior year, he and some of his classmates joined the army to fight in World War II. Despite near-blindness in one eye, Klyde was allowed to serve; ultimately, he went to Europe with the 141st Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion. He notes that while he was aware of the existence of the concentration camps before he left the States, German townspeople claimed to know nothing about them. When he was discharged from the army, almost three years after signing up, he returned to The Citadel to complete his undergraduate education. While attending Harvard Law School, he met Claire Zuckernik of Boston, Massachusetts. In 1949 he graduated from Harvard and was admitted to the South Carolina Bar. He and Claire married in 1950 and she joined him in Charleston, where they raised their children and he started a law practice. Klyde describes his career, including how he acquired his positions as Charleston County’s attorney, assistant U.S. attorney, and circuit court judge. Among the other topics discussed: the social barriers among the Jewish community in the first half of the 20th century; the establishment of the Conservative synagogue, Emanu-El, in 1947; the merger, referred to by the interviewee as an amalgamation, of Charleston’s two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, in 1954; joining the Masonic lodge, Friendship Lodge, No. 9; and the debate about whether to open the Jewish Community Center on the Sabbath and High Holidays. Also mentioned are Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, leader of the congregation at the newly merged Brith Sholom Beth Israel from 1955 to 1963, and Bill Ackerman, developer of the South Windermere neighborhood who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for mayor of Charleston in 1971. Note: see transcript for corrections made by interviewee during proofing. See Mss. 1035-165 for the preceding interview on August 26, 1997. See the Klyde Robinson Collection, Mss. 1024, in Special Collections at the College of Charleston Library for related material.
Anita Rosen Levine, the daughter of Rose Rosenfeld of Romania and Jacob Rosen of Vitebsk, Russia, grew up in Port Chester, New York, a small town with a vibrant Jewish community. She received her Jewish education from students of New York City’s Jewish Theological Seminary, who traveled by train to the suburb to teach Sunday school. Anita was visiting a friend in Charleston, South Carolina, when she met Sol Levine, a native of Savannah, Georgia. His parents, Harry Levine, a cantor from Yekaterinoslav, Ukraine, and Freda Wasserman, a native of Warsaw, Poland, emigrated from Russia in 1906 with their two daughters and Harry’s mother. After Freda died in 1932, Harry and his two youngest sons, Sol and David, moved from Savannah to Charleston, where his daughter Rose lived with her family. Nearly two years later, Harry and Sol moved to Columbia, joining Sol’s older brother Max. David, still a young boy, stayed behind with Rose. Sol belonged to the Herzl Club in Savannah and was the first president of Columbia’s Jewish youth group, AZA, Aleph Zadik Aleph. He clerked in stores in the South Carolina towns of Allendale and Bamberg before returning to Charleston where he worked for his brother-in-law at LeRoy’s Jewelers on King Street. Sol and Anita, who married and settled in Charleston in 1942, talk about their social life, downtown shop owners, and their three children. In the early 1950s, when construction of the Savannah River Site, a nuclear production facility, was underway, Sol was hired to run a store in Barnwell, one of the South Carolina towns experiencing rapid growth associated with the new plant. The Levines lived in Barnwell for two years before returning to Charleston in 1955, the year after the two Orthodox synagogues, Brith Sholom and Beth Israel, merged. Prior to moving to Barnwell, they had been members of Brith Sholom; upon their return to Charleston, they joined Brith Sholom Beth Israel (BSBI). They discuss the merger and comment on the breakaway of Brith Sholom members to establish the Conservative congregation Emanu-El in 1947. Other topics covered include Sol’s contributions to BSBI through the Men’s Club, Anita’s involvement with the Daughters of Israel Sisterhood, the St. Philip Street and Rutledge Avenue mikvahs, and the rabbis, cantors, and sextons who served the Orthodox community. Anita began working for the BSBI rabbis in the mid-1950s, running the office for the synagogue and the Charleston Hebrew Institute (CHI), BSBI’s Hebrew day school. She describes the growth of CHI from just a kindergarten in 1955 to graduating the first class of seventh graders in 1964. “It was like my fourth child,” she says, referring to CHI.
Harold Jacobs, the only child of Sam and Mignonette Cohen Jacobs, discusses his family history and growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. Sam’s father, Isaac Jacobs (Karesh) emigrated from the area of Europe described by Harold as eastern Germany or Prussia. (Isaac Jacobs, grandson of the aforementioned Isaac and Harold’s cousin, states in his account of the family origins in a 1995 interview that the Karesh/Jacobs family came from Trestina, near Bialystok, Poland.) Isaac, the immigrant, made his way to Cincinnati, Ohio, during the Civil War and joined the Union Army. He married Jeanette Slager, and the couple settled in Charleston where they ran a dry goods store on King Street. Sam, Mignonette, and Harold lived in the St. Philip Street neighborhood before moving to Hampton Park Terrace in the northwest section of Charleston, where they opened Harold’s Cabin, a small store that sold snowballs and a few convenience items. Harold describes the family’s holiday and Sabbath customs, his aunt and uncles on the Jacobs side, the differences between “uptown” and “downtown” Jews, and the expansion of the family business, including how he came to be one of the first merchants in Charleston to sell frozen foods. As a child, Harold attended services at Brith Sholom, the Orthodox synagogue in which his father was raised, and Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), where his mother, who was raised in the Reform tradition, was a member. Sometime after becoming a bar mitzvah at Brith Sholom, he began to “drift” more toward services at KKBE, ultimately becoming a lifelong member of the historic Charleston temple. Harold served in the army in North Africa and Italy during World War II and, after the war, married Lillian Breen, who grew up on a farm in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where there were too few Jews for a congregation. Lillian’s parents were from Riga, Latvia, and they ran a furniture store in Rocky Mount. The family traveled to Fayetteville, North Carolina, for the High Holidays.
Helen Berle, a daughter of Harry and Tillie Hufeizen Laufer, immigrants from Mogelnitsa, Poland, reminisces about her parents’ business, Laufer’s Kosher Restaurant on King Street in Charleston, South Carolina. Popular among local merchants and military servicemen stationed in Charleston and Beaufort, the eatery served Jews and non-Jews for about two decades beginning in the early 1930s. Berle describes some of the kosher-style dishes that Jews from the Old Country brought with them to America. “Everything was just good, plain, old, basic cooking. . . . I think seasoning had a lot to do with it.” While blacks could not eat at Laufer’s, they were hired to work in the kitchen, and she recalls that the relationship between members of the Jewish and black communities of Charleston were good in the years before the Civil Rights Movement. She briefly mentions a branch of her mother’s family, the Hufeisens of France, who were also in the restaurant business. Note: the transcript contains additions and corrections made by Helen during proofing.
Everett Ness and his wife, Shirley Gergel Ness, discuss his family history. Everett recalls accompanying his mother, Esther Berger, a Polish immigrant, on a visit to see her parents, Fishel and Molly Nachman Berger, in Poland in 1931, when he was four years old. Esther helped several of her siblings to emigrate; most of them, unable to enter the United States because of quota restrictions, settled in Argentina. Everett's paternal grandfather, Yehuda Seiden, changed his surname to Ness (Nass), his mother's maiden name, to avoid conscription in Poland, and immigrated to New York, where Everett's father, Benjamin grew up. Benjamin joined his brother Morris in his dry goods store in Manning, South Carolina, before opening his own ladies ready-to-wear business in nearby Sumter. He met Esther in Charleston, South Carolina, while attending High Holy Day services. They raised Everett and his sister, also named Shirley, in Manning, and attended Temple Sinai in Sumter. Everett and Shirley Gergel married in 1949 and lived for seventeen years in Charleston before moving to Columbia, South Carolina. They were initially members of the Reform synagogue in Charleston, but switched to the Conservative congregation, Emanu-El. Everett, who began studying Hebrew as an adult, notes that "as we became more aware of our Jewishness, the Reform Movement did not meet our needs, did not meet my needs." The Nesses talk about their relationship with Sam and Sophie Solomon of Charleston and describe Sam's funeral in 1954. Everett discusses his mother's philanthropic work for the March of Dimes and his involvement with Chabad and the chevra kadisha in Columbia.
Libby Friedman Levinson, the youngest of seven children of Betty Alpern and Isadore Friedman, was born in Grajewo, Poland, in 1909. Isadore immigrated to the United States a month before Germany declared war on Russia in 1914. He settled in Charleston, South Carolina, home to a number of Betty’s relatives and landsmen from Trestina (Trzcianne), including the Karesh, Pearlstine, and Jacobs families. Betty and the children intended to follow as soon as they could sell their house and furniture, but World War I prevented their emigration until just after the fighting ended. Libby describes how her mother and siblings survived the war and their trip from Poland to Charleston afterward. She discusses family members, in particular, her sister Annie, who married Louis Lourie of St. George, and her sister Minnie, who married Jake Kalinsky of Holly Hill. Libby married Charles Levinson of Bishopville; after living briefly in Branchville and North, South Carolina, they moved to Barnwell, where they raised two children. The transcript includes comments inserted by the interviewee during proofreading.